Nat Torkington

Nat has chaired the O'Reilly Open Source Convention and other O'Reilly conferences for over a decade. He ran the first web server in New Zealand, co-wrote the best-selling Perl Cookbook, and was one of the founding Radar bloggers. He lives in New Zealand and consults in the Asia-Pacific region.

Four short links: 29 March 2016

Four short links: 29 March 2016

SNES Code Injection, World Without Work, Spectrum Collaboration, and Mass Surveillance

  1. SNES Code Injection (YouTube) — this human exploited various glitches in Super Mario World to inject the code for Flappy Bird. Wow.
  2. Will Life be Worth Living in a World without Work? — new paper published in the Science and Engineering Ethics journal. Two distinct ethical/social issues would seem to arise. The first is one of distributive justice: how will the (presumed) efficiency gains from automated labour be distributed through society? The second is one of personal fulfilment and meaning: if people no longer have to work, what will they do with their lives? In this article, I set aside the first issue and focus on the second. In doing so, I make three arguments. First, I argue that there are good reasons to embrace non-work and that these reasons become more compelling in an era of technological unemployment. Second, I argue that the technological advances that make widespread technological unemployment possible could still threaten or undermine human flourishing and meaning, especially if (as is to be expected) they do not remain confined to the economic sphere. And third, I argue that this threat could be contained if we adopt an integrative approach to our relationship with technology.
  3. Spectrum Collaboration Challenge — DARPA’s next big challenge is based on the idea that wireless devices would work better if they cooperated with one another rather than fought for bandwidth. Since not all devices are active at all times, the agency says, it should be possible through the use of artificial intelligence machine-learning algorithms to allow them to figure out how to share the spectrum with a minimum of conflict.
  4. Mass Surveillance Silences Minority Opinions (PDF) — This study explores how perceptions and justification of surveillance practices may create a chilling effect on democratic discourse by stifling the expression of minority political views. Using a spiral of silence theoretical framework, knowing one is subject to surveillance and accepting such surveillance as necessary act as moderating agents in the relationship between one’s perceived climate of opinion and willingness to voice opinions online. Theoretical and normative implications are discussed. (via Washington Post)
Comment
Four short links: 28 March 2016

Four short links: 28 March 2016

Holoportation, Filter Your Bot, Curriculum for the Future, and Randomized Control Trials for Policy

  1. Holoportation (YouTube) — video of teleconferencing with the Hololens. I hope my avatar wears more pants than I do.
  2. Wordfilter — package to filter out slurs and the kinds of things you don’t want your bot saying on Twitter. (via How Not to Make a Racist Bot)
  3. Curriculum For the Future (iTunes) — in game form, you get to figure out how to sell your preferred curriculum (“maker!”) to the parents and politicians who care about different things. Similar game mechanic to Win the White House from Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics.
  4. Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomized Controlled Trials (PDF) — 2012 paper from the UK Cabinet Office talking about running real randomized control trials of policy. (I’d like to be part of one that looks at better health care!)
Comment
Four short links: 25 March 2016

Four short links: 25 March 2016

Intro to Statistics, Automatic Lip Reading, Outdoor Range Finding for $10, and Wrongful Takedowns

  1. Intro Statistics with Randomization and Simulation — free PDF download as well as book for purchase. (via Flowing Data)
  2. Automated Lip Reading Invented — press release, but interesting topic. The research will be presented at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP) in Shanghai.
  3. A Smartphone-based Laser Distance Sensor for Outdoor Environments (PDF) — We present a low-cost, smartphone-based planar laser distance sensor design for outdoor use with 6 cm accuracy at 5 meters, 30 Hz scan rate, and 0.1 degree resolution over the field of view. The cost of the hardware additions to the off-the-shelf smartphone used in our prototype is under $50.
  4. Internet Archive Seeks to Defend Against Wrongful TakedownsIn its submission, the Archive goes to some lengths to highlight differences between those engaging in commercial piracy and those who seek to preserve and share cultural heritage. As a result, the context in which a user posts content online should be considered before attempting to determine whether an infringement has taken place. This, the organization says, poses problems for the “staydown” demands gaining momentum with copyright holders.
Comment
Four short links: 24 March 2016

Four short links: 24 March 2016

Work and Home Github, Museum Data, Bandwidth Incentives, and Motion Design

  1. Maintain Separate Github Accounts — simple advice.
  2. Cooper-Hewitt Pen Data — anonymized data from the Cooper-Hewitt design museum’s fantastic pen.
  3. Zero Rating’s Problem — Wikipedia was zero-rated for Angola, so Angolans began swapping movies via Wikipedia. Zero rating (“no data charge for this service”) is an incentive to use the site, not necessarily for the purpose intended.
  4. Motion Design is the Future of UIMotion tells stories. Everything in an app is a sequence, and motion is your guide. Someone caught the animations and transitions bug.
Comment
Four short links: 23 March 2016

Four short links: 23 March 2016

Graph Query, API Economy, Mutual Interest, and The Multithreading Organization

  1. Dragon: A Distributed Graph Query Engine — Facebook describes its internal graph query engine. [T]he layout of these indices on storage is optimized based on a deeper understanding of query patterns (e.g., many queries are about friends), as opposed to accepting random sharding, which is common in these systems. Wisely, the system is tailored to the use cases they have and the patterns they see in access.
  2. Almost Everyone Is Doing the API Economy Wrong (Techcrunch) — Redux: your API should help you make money when the API customer makes money, and you should set clear expectations for what’s acceptable and what’s not. But every developer should be forced to write 100 times: “if you build on a platform you don’t own, you’re building on a potential and probable future competitor.”
  3. Traditional Economics Failed, Here’s a Blueprint — runs through the shifts happening in our thinking about the world and ourselves (simple to complex, independent to interdependent, rational calculator to irrational approximators, etc) and concludes: True self-interest is mutual interest. The best way to improve your likelihood of surviving and thriving is to make sure those around you survive and thrive. See above API note.
  4. Blitzscaling (HBR) — as you move from village to city, functions are beginning to be differentiated; you’re really multithreading. I could write a thesis on the CAP theorem for business. And I have definitely worked for companies that have a “share nothing” approach to solving their threading issues.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 22 March 2016

Four short links: 22 March 2016

HCI Pioneers, Security Architecture, Trial by Cyborg, and Distributed Ledgers

  1. HCI Pioneers — Ben Schneiderman’s photo collection, acknowledging pioneers in the field. (via CCC Blog)
  2. A Burglar’s Guide to the City (BLDGBLOG) — For the past several years, I’ve been writing a book about the relationship between burglary and architecture. Burglary, as it happens, requires architecture: it is a spatial crime. Without buildings, burglary, in its current legal form, could not exist. Committing it requires an inside and an outside; it’s impossible without boundaries, thresholds, windows, and walls. In fact, one needn’t steal anything at all to be a burglar. In a sense, as a crime, it is part of the built environment; the design of any structure always implies a way to break into it. Connection to computer security left as exercise to the reader.
  3. Trial by Machine (Roth) — The current landscape of mechanized proof, liability, and punishment suffers from predictable but underscrutinized automation pathologies: hidden subjectivities and errors in “black box” processes; distorted decision-making through oversimplified — and often dramatically inaccurate — proxies for blameworthiness; the compromise of values protected by human safety valves, such as dignity, equity, and mercy; and even too little mechanization where machines might be a powerful debiasing tool but where little political incentive exists for its development or deployment. […] The article ultimately proposes a systems approach – “trial by cyborg” – that safeguards against automation pathologies while interrogating conspicuous absences in mechanization through “equitable surveillance” and other means. (via Marginal Revolution)
  4. Distributed Ledger Technology: Blackett Review (gov.uk) — Distributed ledgers can provide new ways of assuring ownership and provenance for goods and intellectual property. For example, Everledger provides a distributed ledger that assures the identity of diamonds, from being mined and cut to being sold and insured. In a market with a relatively high level of paper forgery, it makes attribution more efficient, and has the potential to reduce fraud and prevent “blood diamonds” from entering the market. Report includes recommendations for policy makers. (via Dan Hill)
Comment
Four short links: 21 March 2016

Four short links: 21 March 2016

Legacy Tech, Gender Prediction, Text Generation, and Human Performance

  1. Ten More Years!my brand spanking new chip card from a UK issuer not only arrived with a 2000s app of a 1990s implementation of a 1980s product (debit) on 1970s chip, it also came with a 1960s magnetic stripe on it and a 1950s PAN with a 1940s signature panel on the back. It’s no wonder it seems a little out of place in the modern world.
  2. Age and Gender Classification Using Convolutional Neural Nets — oh, this will end well.
  3. The Uncanny Valley of Words (Ross Goodwin) — lessons learned from an NYU ITP neural networker making poetry and surprises from text.
  4. The Paradox of Human Performance (YouTube) — Human dexterity and agility vastly exceed that of contemporary robots. Yet, humans have vastly slower “hardware” (e.g. muscles) and “wetware” (e.g. neurons). How can this paradox be resolved? Slow actuators and long communication delays require predictive control based on some form of internal model—but what form? (via Robohub)
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Four short links: 18 March 2016

Four short links: 18 March 2016

Engineering Traits, Box of Souls, Transport Data, and Tortilla Endofunctors

  1. Engineers of Jihad (Marginal Revolution) — brief book review, tantalizing. The distribution of traits across disciplines mirrors almost exactly the distribution of disciplines across militant groups…engineers are present in groups in which social scientists, humanities graduates, and women are absent, and engineers possess traits — proneness to disgust, need for closure, in-group bias, and (at least tentatively) simplism…
  2. Box of a Trillion Souls — review and critique of some of Stephen Wolfram’s writing and speaking about AI and simulation and the nature of reality and complexity and … a lot.
  3. Alphabet Starting Sidewalk Labs (NY Times) — “We’re taking everything from anonymized smartphone data from billions of miles of trips, sensor data, and bringing that into a platform that will give both the public and private parties and government the capacity to actually understand the data in ways they haven’t before,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, Sidewalk’s chief executive, who is a former deputy mayor of New York City and former chief executive of Bloomberg. Data, data, data.
  4. SIGBOVIK — the proceedings from 2015 include a paper that talks about “The Tortilla Endofunctor.” You’re welcome.
Comment
Four short links: 17 March 2016

Four short links: 17 March 2016

Boozy Tweets, Quantum Games, Viva Vectors, and Being Fired

  1. Algorithm Identifies Tweets Sent Under the Influence of Alcohol (MIT TR) — notable for how they determined whether a Tweet was sent from home. They made a list of phrases like “home at last!” and had MTurkers confirm the Tweets were about being home, then used those as training data for an algorithm to identify other Tweets talking about home.
  2. Puzzle Game to Help Program Quantum Computers (New Scientist) — Devitt has turned the problem of programming a quantum computer into a game called meQuanics. His team has developed a prototype to test the game, which you can play now, and today launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a fully fledged version for iOS and Android phones.
  3. Deep or Shallow, NLP is Breaking Out (ACM) — readable roundup of how NLP changed in the last five years, with a useful list for further reading and watching.
  4. Firing and Being Fired (Zach Holman) — advice for the fired, the firing, and the coworkers. All solid.
Comment
Four short links: 16 March 2016

Four short links: 16 March 2016

Analytic Monitoring, Commenter Demographics, Math and Empathy, and How We Read

  1. MacroBaseAnalytic monitoring for the Internet of Things. The code behind a research paper, written up in the morning paper where Adrian Colyer says, there is another story that also unfolds in the paper – one of careful system design based on analysis of properties of the problem space, of thinking deeply and taking the time to understand the prior art (aka “the literature”), and then building on those discoveries to advance and adapt them to the new situation. “That’s what research is all about!” you may say, but it’s also what we’d (I’d?) love to see more of in practitioner settings, too. The result of all this hard work is a system that comprises just 7,000 lines of code, and I’m sure, many, many hours of thinking!
  2. Survey of Commenters and Comment ReadersAmericans who leave news comments, who read news comments, and who do neither are demographically distinct. News commenters are more male, have lower levels of education, and have lower incomes compared to those who read news comments. (via Marginal Revolution)
  3. The Empathizing-Systemizing Theory, Social Abilities, and Mathematical Achievement in Children (Nature) — systematic thinking doesn’t predict math ability in children, but being empathetic predicts being worse at math. The effect is stronger with girls. The authors propose the mechanism is that empathetic children pick up a teacher’s own dislike of math, and any teacher biases like “girls aren’t good at math.”
  4. Moneyball for Book Publishers: A Detailed Look at How We Read (NYT) — On average, fewer than half of the books tested were finished by a majority of readers. Most readers typically give up on a book in the early chapters. Women tend to quit after 50 to 100 pages, men after 30 to 50. Only 5% of the books Jellybooks tested were completed by more than 75% of readers. Sixty percent of books fell into a range where 25% to 50% of test readers finished them. Business books have surprisingly low completion rates. Not surprisingly low to anyone who has ever read a business book. They’re always a 20-page idea stretched to 150 pages because that’s how wide a book’s spine has to be to visible on the airport bookshelf. Fat paper stock and 14-point text with wide margins and 1.5 line spacing help, too. Don’t forget to leave pages after each chapter for the reader’s notes. And summary checklists. And … sorry, I need to take a moment.
Comment: 1